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          Front Page




Warning Shot Fired on Political Hires in SF

By Dan Boyd
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Capitol Bureau

          SANTA FE — The head of Gov.-elect Susana Martinez's transition team sent a stern warning to Gov. Bill Richardson's chief of staff Wednesday, threatening that Richardson political appointees moved into protected civil service jobs before Martinez takes office would be fired.
        Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, the Martinez transition team chairwoman, told Richardson staff chief Brian Condit that any "exempt employees" moved into protected jobs after Nov. 3 without Martinez transition committee approval "will immediately be terminated upon the swearing in of Governor-elect Susana Martinez on Jan. 1, 2011."
        Wilson said the letter was in response to a report by Albuquerque Journal UpFront columnist Thom Cole on Wednesday that more Richardson political appointees had slid into the protected positions in recent months.
        The column also reported an internal memo that could create a loophole for Richardson's announced hiring freeze.
        "These kinds of personnel actions in the waning days of an administration certainly seem to circumvent the will of the people of New Mexico," Wilson said in the letter to Condit.
        Wilson told the Journal, "We're not going to allow gaming of the system. It's just not right."
        Condit declined to comment Wednesday after being reached by the Journal.
        Richardson's deputy chief of staff and spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, commented later in an e-mailed statement.
        "Apparently the former congresswoman is more concerned with demonizing state employees and looking for opportunities to fire people," Gallegos said. "On January 1, the Martinez team will have every opportunity for headhunting. Until then, Governor Richardson will continue to govern responsibly without seeking permission from campaign strategists to manage state government."
        Richardson on Sunday ordered a suspension of hiring by agencies under his control, but an internal memo circulated Monday says the order doesn't apply in cases where agencies have completed hiring decisions and offered jobs. That loophole could allow more Richardson appointees to shift into classified jobs in the coming weeks.
        Cole's column on Tuesday reported that at least seven gubernatorial appointees have been moved to classified positions since July.
        Unlike political or "exempt" hires, who serve at the pleasure of the governor and can be hired and fired without cause, classified employees can be dismissed only for cause after a one-year probationary period. Such transfers are not uncommon in the waning days of an administration as political appointees seek job security.
        Wilson, in the letter to Condit, cited a previous memo sent Nov. 4 in which she asked him to suspend any transfers of political appointees to classified posts.
        Martinez, who defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish in the Nov. 2 election, discussed the state work force in her first face-to-face meeting with Richardson on Tuesday in Santa Fe.
        Martinez has said current Richardson appointees are welcome to apply for jobs in her administration.
        However, much of the behind-the-scenes transition work is being handled by Wilson and Condit, who Richardson named as his transition point person.
        Wilson's letter came a day after the first, and reportedly cordial, face-to-face meeting between Martinez and Richardson at the Capitol on Tuesday.
       

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